Political Notebook: SF training kicks off LGBT small business initiative
by Matthew S. Bajko
A national effort to boost business for LGBT-owned small companies will kick off next week at a training being held in San Francisco.
Maria Contreras-Sweet, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and David Perry, the SBA's director of LGBT outreach who is based in Atlanta, are both expected to attend the March 2 event.
The local gathering is the first stop of the LGBT Business Builder National Tour that will include meetings in several other California cities, such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento, over the coming months. The SBA is sponsoring the tour in partnership with the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
"This is the first national agreement the SBA has had to bring to the field programs for the LGBT community. Our administrator is so enthusiastic about this she is coming out to San Francisco to kick off the event. She requested to do this," Perry told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent phone interview. "We couldn't have more support from the head of our agency who is a member of the president's cabinet."
Earlier this month the federal agency formalized a co-sponsorship agreement with the national LGBT chamber as it strives to direct more resources toward LGBT-owned small businesses.
One of the main objectives of the new initiative is to increase the number of LGBT businesses that are certified as business enterprises by the NGLCC, thus making them eligible to seek out government contracts set aside specifically to meet diversity supplier targets.
The NGLCC certification program began in 2004, and since then, more than 600 LGBT small businesses have been certified. Due to the new SBA partnership, the chamber's goal is to surpass 1,000 businesses.
"Today's announcement is about ensuring that entrepreneurs who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender have the support they need to excel. I'm here because we cannot separate the fight for civil rights from the fight for market rights and economic empowerment," Contreras-Sweet stated in a news release marking the February 5 signing ceremony. "This agreement is not about what we will do here in D.C., but (what) we will do together in all 50 states to help LGBT entrepreneurs grow their revenues and their payroll."
Locally, the SBA has partnered with the Golden Gate Business Association to organize the event.
"The GGBA was the nation's first LGBT chamber of commerce, and we've been at the epicenter of creating the public policy initiatives in San Francisco and California that are driving LGBT business growth trends across the United States," stated GGBA President Robb Fleischer .
A key focus of the half-day training being held in San Francisco is to guide LGBT business owners through the certification process and educate them on a number of contracting opportunities they can avail themselves of at the local, state, and federal level.
"We can walk people through if this is good for their business. We can sort out what it means and what is in it for my business," said Mark Quinn, district director of the SBA San Francisco district office. "This is the first time we are reaching out to the LGBT community to do that."
The SBA chose to kick off the LGBT Business Builder series in the Bay Area due to the enactment this year of a state law, AB 1678, authored by gay Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park), which requires public utilities in California to extend existing provisions granted to ethnic minority, women, and disabled veteran owned business enterprises to certified LGBT business enterprises.
It is the first bill of its kind in the United States and went into effect January 1. LGBT business leaders believe it will serve as a model for similar legislation covering other highly regulated industries in California and in other states.
Executives with the California Public Utilities Commission supplier diversity team and power company PG&E, which is hosting the SBA's event next week, will be on hand to discuss the contracting opportunities now available to LGBT-owned companies.
Justin Nelson, NLGCC co-founder and president, pointed out that the legislation opens the door for LGBT businesses to compete for the $8.5 billion in contracts the state's public utilities have directed toward minority-owned companies.
"There is just a tremendous amount of opportunity as a result of AB 1678 in California," said Nelson.
The Bay Area playing host to Super Bowl 50 next year presents another unique opportunity for LGBT-owned businesses in northern California, as the organizing committee for the National Football League's championship event has extended its diversity supplier program to include LGBT majority-owned companies.
"We want everyone to know about, and to take advantage of, these new opportunities coming online for the LGBT community," said Quinn, who attended this month's meeting of the Castro Merchants business association to promote the upcoming training session.
Companies that are at least 51 percent LGBT owned and controlled are eligible. The certification paperwork can take up to five hours to complete and the approval process can take anywhere from 30 days to two months depending on if the application is complete.
"We have an entire team here helping people through the certification process," said Nelson.
The chamber has been working with various federal agencies to steer a portion of the $100 billion the U.S. government spends with small businesses to those that are LGBT owned.
"We want to do everything we can to ensure LGBT companies can bid on government contracts," said Nelson.
It also works with 140 corporate partners that honor its certification in seeking out diverse suppliers. Nelson said the contract opportunities range "from soups to nuts, if you will" and encompass "just about anything a company uses to handle their day-to-day business operations."
He added, "The sky really is the limit for LGBT businesses to get into this diverse supply chain."
In light of California's efforts to assist LGBT-owned businesses, the national LGBT chamber will be hosting its 2016 conference in either San Diego or San Francisco.
"The great news is our conference will be in the Golden State," said Nelson.
The free half-day training in San Francisco will take place from 12:30 to 5 p.m. Monday, March 2 in the PG&E Auditorium, 245 Market Street.
To register, visit http://tinyurl.com/lgbtbizbuilder.
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the hiring of a gay chief deputy city attorney in SF.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail email@example.com.